Uncategorized

wild horses….

What’s you passion?

I remember a fantastic meeting 2 years ago when someone had a picture of Jesus riding in on a exciting, great, wild and fantastic horse, with a flock of wild horses, calling us to ride with him, and he with us, in an adventure of faith. A journey into the unknown over the hill to reach the lost, hurting, lonely and broken.

What is your wild horse?

What is it that God has put on your heart? And will you ride out your horse with Jesus?

Take a moment to think what it is the dream, the song, the longing within your heart?

Is it the dream of God within you?

Is this going to be a dream that remains a ‘nice idea’ or ‘a dream’ that with Christ will seek and strive to see it come into being, becoming reality, riding that adventure of faith beyond the horizon of our comfort zones.

I’ll leave us with a great prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake…

Disturb us, Lord, when We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

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Church, Kingdom, Mission, Unity

United we Stand?

Unity, is an interesting topic.

Unity our first glimpse of unity is within the character of God himself, having both diversity and unity within the Godhead.
One of the earliest statements from God on the human condition was about unity, ‘it is not good for a person to be alone’, which seems at odds with our massively individualistic culture.
John Donne said: “no man is an island”, we were created  for relationship, we created to be united with each other and with God.
God created a diverse universe, and yet before the fall there was unity within that diversity.
So, unity, what’s there to say?

If you forgive me I’m going to go around the houses a bit as I think about unity.

Sometimes we think we are being unified is meaning a vaguely pleasant relationship with the other local Churches, we might even sit through the occasional Churches Together meeting -or Fraternals- where traditionally we spend our time dipping rich tea biscuits into weak coffee in a ‘church hall green’ cup with a saucer avoiding any topic which might be contentious.

This isn’t  unity.

This is a veneer of unity.

Unity is not a bland tolerance of each other, nor it is passive or pointless as so many things that sometimes wear the ‘unity’ badge can be.

In fact  sometimes those of us who are passionate about unity often paradoxically are the people who also people who rock the boat.

I believe unity is pointless unless we are united IN something.  We as Christians are united IN Christ.

We often forget that scripture calls us primarily to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’ yet too often although we pay lip service to this command of Christ, we don’t live it out, our primary directive.

Our primary aim is to seek the mission statement of Jesus when he taught his disciples to pray “may your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”…

I recently spoke at a men’s event about passion, because I believe apathy is what is crippling much of the Church in this area and across both our nation and western Europe too, we are not seeking God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven, other things are getting out of perspective and this is why unity breaks down.

It is a call to carry our cross, a call on the narrow way, a call to go out like sheep among wolves, it is a difficult tight rope to walk, one that will at times not make us popular. A call to challenge in love our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is also a challenge to let our  brothers and sisters in Christ challenge us (also hopefully in love).

We are united in the one in whom there are no male or female, black or white, rich or poor, jew or gentile, ordained or lay person, but makes us all one IN him.

Also apathy is indifferent to each other, so overlooks the commands to love, to ‘each others needs to prefer’, true biblical unity is a surrender to God of our own ideas, agendas and baggage… the greatest key for unity is both love, grace and wisdom, we don’t have to agree on everything, there are some issues where our theological differences make partnering difficult in some instances, but we are called to love one another, we are called to serve one another, it’s not up to us to pick our team, but to us to work with those whom God sets alongside us, ultimately God is the team captain not us.

If we are going to be people that seek first the Kingdom of God, then much of our differences fall away, in fact when we engage in mission our pettiness suddenly seems much less  important than it was.

I’ll close with an image from the crucifixion where Jesus was carrying his cross, and I suspect was praying “God help me carry this cross”, he trips and falls and Simon of Cyrene helps him carry his cross, a picture of vertical and horizontal living; God I need to help carry my cross,  I need you -my brothers and sisters in Christ- to help me carry my cross….

…and by the way, I will help you carry yours  too.

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Uncategorized

Hosanna!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU7htB3cyo4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6I5u5shgc4

Today we live in an age of celebrities, where we love to put people on pedestals only to then to love watching them crash and burn.

Celebrity or ‘fame’ is probably one of the most pervasive idols within our country, Jesus could have had fame by the bucket load (the devil offered it to  Jesus right at the  start of his ministry)…

Yet Jesus came in to Jerusalem not on a war horse, a  stretch limo or on a tank… but on a colt, a donkey, which was both a prophetic declaration Zachariah 9:9 which also was subverting all the ideas the Jewish people had about their Messiah being some kind of politician or warlord and a display of humility.

Can you imagine Teresa May or Queen Elizabeth riding on a Weston donkey?

Here sat on that donkey Jesus is almost ridiculing the whole emptiness of fame… this was the guy who suggested that the first should be last, and in his ‘keynote speech’ turned the how world’s world view up on its end…

But the people seem to over-look the irony, or they choose to over-look it, or maybe they are so caught up with the fulfilment of Zachariah’s prophecy that the penny doesn’t drop with its context?

Still, I think you can forgive them for getting a bit carried away, you can imagine the whispers in the crowd… “he’s the guy who raised Lazarus from the dead!”, “he’s the guy who healed the man born blind” and he’s the guy that told that amazing story of the sinful son and the running dad””…

The truth is that when we lead radically different lives people notice and people talk… but also, if you read the story carefully too, not everyone is pleased to see Jesus… It is a simple piece of wisdom that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but it is amazing how strong the pull of ‘people pleasing’ can be in our lives.

We seem to skirt over verses which say things like, ‘anyone wanting to lead a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’, and think we can go through lives being everyone’s mate, but sometimes salt has a ‘bite’ to it and bright lights can make us squint.

The story of Palm Sunday seems to have an Adventy feel to it. Celebrating Jesus arrival, coming in not as a King but in humility and poverty, echoes of his birth. Jesus comes in as a King but a King that is later crowded  with barbaric thorns,  and the same perfume -Myrrh – given at his birth anointing his body in death.

A Saviour coming to die, a sacrifice -pure and blameless- being sent for us.

The gospel, and this story in particular, reminds us of the fickle nature of humanity… opinions change, just as children’s “must have gadget” soon gathers dust replaced by a new favourite, so we can be with our spiritual loyalties, what I call the danger of the ‘spiritual dimmer switch’ where we turn up the brightness to look holy in Church before dimming it down for the rest of the week.

I often think Palm Sunday’s ‘Hosannas’ becoming Good Friday’s ‘Crucifies’ is a little like Simon-Peter who shouts his mouth off about how loyal he’d be -‘even if I have to die with you I won’t deny you’ and yet we know the next step of the story where he denies Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times.

The tide of public opinion changed in just days, and with it comes the pressure to conform and say whatever everyone else is saying… If we are being salt and light, these are things that don’t blend into the background… Our calling is to be ‘transformed by the renewing of our mind’, we are called to transform the world, our culture and our community; yet sadly the world, our culture and our community can transform us… Eugene Patterson in the message talk about this passage about “not letting the world squeeze you into its mould”.

But I wonder how many people actually changed their minds about Jesus, or did the  majority of them go along with the crowd?

The Bible talks of people being like sheep, and there is a truth in that, you only have to watch people with ‘heard instincts’ copying what everyone else is doing.

Are we people of conviction? Or are we easily swayed?

Are we like a Salmon (swimming against the tide?) or are we like a dead fish (getting swept along by it)?

Shane Claiborne writes about the Christian symbols having been doves, fish and even a wild goose  but never a chameleon… We follow the most radical human being ever to walk the planet, and yet we try and pretend we are the same as everyone else, we have (to quote a song) “the God of heaven living in us”… “he that is within us is greater than he that is within the world”… “the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead within our hearts and lives”…

And we think people won’t notice, or hope people might miss it.

We should be different.

People who aren’t Christians should be looking at our lives and scratch their heads and murmur “I don’t get it!”

Yet this is where the rubber has got to hit the road, we talk about being different, and people think it means about saying “sugar” not “s**t” when you drop a brick on your foot and about not doing anything wrong (and don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that personal holiness doesn’t matter, it matters a great deal) but the question I want to ask is “what do you actually DO differently” HOW do you live out your calling to be salt and light, holding out the word that gives life, Christ’s ambassador in the complex network or web of relationships that make up your daily lives…

A great -but uncomfortable question- would be would my bank manager know I was a Christian, by the way I spend my money?

I love the idea of the hurting and the broken, the marginalised and the disenfranchised, the least/last/lost cheering as they hear that a new Church has been planted in their neighbour hood, because the thought of 20 people living lives sold out for Jesus is going to be good news for them… whilst the loan sharks, drug pushers, pimps and bullies groan and loose sleep over the Church coming into the neighbourhood.

At the moment I  don’t think this is happening, but I believe it could, and should be happening…

So this Advent, lets ditch silly notions of fame, celebrity… place our ‘people pleasing fears’ at the foot of the cross of Christ’… And lets live for the only cause worth anything at all, the cause of ‘seeing the advance of the Kingdom of God’, praying in and living out the phrase “may your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven”… not just saying the right thing on Sunday night but also Monday Morning (and for the rest of the week).

A call to a new life.

A life lived as a living sacrifice -Holy and pleasing to God… a spiritual a sacrifice, living for God 24-7, 265 until I do or until Christ returns.

It is  hard, it is tough, when Paul talked of the Christian life being a struggle, or a battle, he was joking! Yet as Palm Sunday opens the door to Good Friday, Good Friday opens the door to Easter day, a day of resurrection power.

You might be reading this thinking, “I couldn’t possibly do this radical life style in my own strength” the good news is you don’t have too, God not only knows ‘of what we are made, but he sends his Holy Spirit to enable us to live for Christ, to shine out for Christ, it’s his power at work in us, “Christ in us the Hope of Glory”…

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Nehemiah 13, sin

Tobiah

Nehemiah 13. 4 “Before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil prescribed for the Levites, musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests.

But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense”.

You might be thinking,  what has this got to do with anything!?

Bit of background Nehemiah has been trying to re-build the walls of Jerusalem, and Sambalat and Tobiah have been violently opposing him (and God too).

Yet when Nehemiah is out of the country, Eliashib the Priest, lets his mate Tobiah into the Temple (where God is worshiped) and gives him large and spacious rooms.

Nehemiah comes back, and throws this vile individual out of the temple and has the whole place re-consecrated to God.

The question is a simple one, is their a Tobiah lurking somewhere in YOUR temple?

By that I mean some area of your life where something sinful needs to be given its eviction notice..

If you end up watching things on the telly at night that cause your mind to sink to the gutter, perhaps you need to get rid of your telly?

Or maybe things you shouldn’t visit on the internet? Perhaps some new software on your computer? Perhaps an accountability partner?

If you have issues around money and generosity perhaps you need to set up a direct debit?

Don’t let the enemy get a food-hold in YOUR TEMPLE (our lives/bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit Paul reminds us)…

A Holy God does not want to co-exist with sin. Repent and throw it away.

I remember when I made a re-commitment to Christ I threw away a fair few of my CD’s and videos (shows how long ago it was) but root it out, throw it out, if it holds you back, perhaps it needs to be shown the door.

When I was doing a placement in rehab, I remember a client snapping his sim card, with all his mates, his whole life, on that phone because he knew if he was to stay sober and drug free (and alive) he needed to take tough and decisive action.

Are we brave enough to evict those things that have become settled in our lives, things that should not co-exist with a Holy God.

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Bravery, Kingdom

Weathercocks or Signposts?

I like Rujard  Kiplings poem “IF” first line is ‘If you can keep your head when everyone else is loosing theirs’. A wonderful picture of not being swayed around with every prevailing wind and tossed around on the changing seas of public opinion.

Yesterday I watched the most remarkable House of Commons maiden speech I have ever heard from their youngest MP,  . Worth checking out. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YiP0pDWHYLw

In it she quotes Tony Benns classic quote about weathercocks and sign posts, where spin around around pointing whatever direction the wind is blowing… signposts stand firm and true.

How often are we as Christians more like weathercock than sign posts?

Interestingly I was at chapter yesterday and their was talk about the courage to be in a Church community trying to tell a different, bigger more Kingdom story… Easy to sell out, go native, adapt and compromise to buy into the lie that this is all there is and we are just a funeral chaplaincy service to the last generation of Christendom who are.

Let us be  (despite the discouragement sat times)people who are signposts of hope, continually pointing people to the bigger, more beautiful Kingdom of God with the treasures of transformation and life rather that spinning around and around directionlessly.

We talked about prayer, and a great quote from Chris, the new curate at Bradley Stoke, about “Needing to pray in the pray-ers” and “living differently knowing that it makes a difference”, being a signpost not a weathercock…

The challenge, even when no one else is doing it, even when you are shouted down and maybe even laughed at and mocked, let’s be people of integrity who stand firm for Christ.

Paul in his letter to the Church at Ephesus  (ch 6) talks about the armour of Christ before urging them to ‘stand firm’ –after all you can have all the armour and still turn and run from the battle.

In Ezekial 22,, God talks about finding someone to stand in the Gap (for prayer and intercession) but found no one. Even if it is just you, do it alone.

CT Studd once famously said that “he would live for Jesus even if no one else would”. The call to be faithful at times is sometimes a call to a really lonely place.

I believe God is calling us to be a signpost not a weathercock, are we going to echo Isaiah (6) and say “here I am, send me”.
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Church, community of grace, Journey, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Servanthood., welcome

Host, Servant and Pilgrim…

I had an interesting meeting with a lovely guy called Ben, he’s exploring New Monasticism and fresh expressions of Church, and was telling me about this expression of Church in Wales who talk about these three modes of being Church.

Host, welcoming, hospitality, putting yourself out for the sake of someone else, think of other cultures of hospitality whereby they give to their guests sacrificially and beyond what they can afford (if you have ever done any oversees mission you’ll know what I mean!)
Servant, how can I help? How can be bless and serve you as a community, thinking of Church as a servant of the world, not wagging their finger and bossing it  around, but looking for opportunities to serve and bless, to bend down and wash its feet.
Pilgrim, that idea about being on a journey, following Christ, seeking where he is at work and walking together the journey of faith.
I love this idea of the modes of Church, as I am becoming more and more discontent with Church being an event we attend rather than learning to BE Church.
Church is not an event, or a series of events, but a radically community moving together to see God’s Kingdom breaking in.
Yet Church is not something disconnected from us, but is us ourselves?
What does it mean for me to learn to be Church?
How does this work in my normal day to day life?
Do I act as a Host? When am I acting as a host?
And when I host am I a Christ like host?
When do I act like a servant?
And when I serve am I like Christ?
And am I a pilgrim?
Am I seeking God?
Am I actually moving in my faith at all?
Am I moving on with him, or am I still in the place I was, or have become used to it and become too settled?
Who am I travelling with?
Where am I looking for God?
How diligently am I seeking him, and am I looking for him in the right places, am I seeking his voice?
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Colosians, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Paul, Paul's Prayers, prayer

Colossians 4

Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Sounds like wise words from Paul about how to approach 2017….

Being devoted to prayer.

Watchful (although I think ‘expectant’ is a better word as it is less passive).

And being thankful, expectant of God to be at work and praising him for seeing him at work.

Praying also for me, pray for each other… -interestingly if you’re a leader sometimes you can feel as though everyone’s gunning for you and very few are praying for you, Paul probably is feeling pretty low as he’s banged up in prison-, but I think the important thing here is to pray for each other, we’re a community, a family, we are meant to be carrying each others burdens, supporting one another in prayer, but too often the individualism of our culture creeps in and it becomes ‘all about us’.

Pray that God opens the door for his message, so we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, Pray for those divine appointments, real and genuine opportunities to honestly talk with people about our faith in natural and helpful ways.

For which I am an ambassador in chains -let us this new year be people that remember the persecuted Church, especially as I think the political/social landscape is changing and I think pluralistic secularisms voice is getting louder and so being a Christian is going to get tougher.

Pray I may proclaim it as clearly as I should, pray that God gives us the words to say, -that all sharing of our faith will not only be with the right heart but also spirit lead.

Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders… One of my favourite verses my friend Mark Rich quotes is “Zeal without wisdom is folly” often howe act pushes people away from Christ rathe r than drawing people towards him? So many things Churches do and individual Christians do, that is simply really unhelpful.

 Making the most of every opportunity… God gives his people, both us as individuals, and collectively as his Church so many opportunities, so many  I think we simply don’t see, so many we choose not to see as it sounds like a tough call “opportunities are missed because they come in work overalls”, some we think are too big for us, and some we sadly (sometimes) think are beneath us “I’m not doing that?” or “I’m not going there”. Jesus says “Open your eyes the fields are white to the harvest” 

Let your conversation be always be full of grace… Some of the emails I get from Christians, some of the conversations I hear in Churches,  leave me wondering “where is the grace?” and if we can’t even manage to be gracious and loving to each other as a community, why would anyone want to travel with us in following Jesus? People want to see a different community, one that loves, one that builds up, Kingdom living is attractive, let people see, hear and experience it, when we remove grace from our lives together it is like a alkali burn -its what’s not there -the absence of acid- that burns us-, sin of omission if you like.

Interestingly, our conversation needs to be always full of Grace, yet sometimes hard to find trace elements of it. Interestingly we are called to have conversations full of grace, yet also seasoned with salt. how often it is the other way around, full of salty Christian rhetoric, but no grace?

Seasoned with salt… The image of our conversations making people thirsty for Christ is an exciting image, as a parent of a young child, I realise that often we are watched and listened too even when we don’t realise it. 

Also, lets not be afraid, to mention the name of Jesus, to be open and honest about our faith, and give people opportunities to talk… Seasoned with salt, unashamed of the gospel, giving people openings and opportunities for further discussion.

If your conversation is like this, then people will be drawn to you and want to explore Christ with you, so you may know how to answer everyone.

 

 

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Luke 15, Salvation

I’m not lost, am I?

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

You might have just skim read the passage, and thought, the prodigal son, not again, been there done it got the t’shirt.

But bare with me. I want to just ask you one question, which of the two sons would you say was the one that was lost?

I would suggested that much of our reading of this passage is a little wrong, we often read the this story following on from the lost sheep and the lost coin, and so we often call it the lost son, three things starting with the same word, that’s almost Anglican alliteration.

Yet I think we need to look at the start of chapter 15 to see what this passage is really saying, who is Jesus addressing, he’s talking to those who don’t think that they are lost, the ones who think that God must be very impressed with them as they have letters after their name, buy the daily mail, wear a shirt and tie, and have sat in the same pew since the Norman invasion.

They hear the first two stories and think that the young lad who ended up in his fathers arms via the pig sty is the one that is lost, not the nice ‘you can marry my daughter’ older brother, who you just know wears chino’s and deck shoes… yet in the final twist, perhaps Jesus is telling them, that the older son, is the one who is lost, because he simply doesn’t understand the extent of the Fathers awesome love for him.

I believe that Luke 15 is actually the hinge of Luke’s gospel, the main point all the way through the gospel is that those who think they’re out, from shepherds, gentiles, ritually unclean, prostitutes, tax collectors, gentiles find themselves embraced by the furious love of God… where as the priests and religious leaders, the people who should get it don’t.

This is a massive theme within Luke, it starts with Zachariah and Mary being contrasted together, a learned Priest in the temple does not believe God can miraculously open up a womb whereas a simple peasant girl (largely educated and probably largely ignored) understands, believes and puts her faith in God and surrenders to him.

A theme that continues through out the gospel.

Contrast Jirus’ despair when he believes  his daughter has died, with the woman with the issue of  blood who believes that just one touch of the hem of Jesus’ garment can make her clean.

You see, many of us may have found God a little like the younger brother, but beware my friends, I know that I can, have and to my shame do, revert to an older brother attitude sometimes.

We forget that we too are forgiven sinners.

Cleansed, restored, redeemed and delivered.

We forget the sheer scandal that is the awesome grace of God.

The scary words of Jesus over the woman who anointed him with perfume before the Pharisee, is “those who have been forgiven much, love much, but those who have been forgiven little love little”.

We become so accustomed to the furious love of God (I love that phrase, it’s from Brendan Manning, author of the ragamuffin Gospel) that sometimes its life transforming power sometimes alludes us…

I think to call this parable the prodigal son, is a little inaccurate, firstly the word prodigal means extravagant and generous, so I’d say the extravegent one in this story isn’t the son, but the Father.

Also, the idea of a lost trilogy makes sense, but for too long we have got the wrong Son, marked as the lost one.

This Son didn’t realise how much his Father loved him.

In a script I once wrote about this story I included the lines “if it had been you, I’d have done the same for you” words which don’t feature in the Bible, but I think is the unsaid words in the story, would the fathers heart have broken the same if his older son had gone off, yes, of course it would. The younger son, actually realised a little more about the grace and compassion of his dad’s nature.

But even then, he doesn’t quite get it, he wants to come back too his Father not as a Son but as a Servant.

He  knows his father will have pity and mercy towards him, but full redemption and restoration, that is goodness and grace beyond his wildest imaginings.

A bit like in the story of Dicken’s Great Expectations, an ungrateful Pip is embarrassed and ashamed of  his unsophisticated brother in law/surrogate dad when he is living the high life in London, yet he collapses and awakes in his family home, Joe having paid off his creditors, the rejected and spurned one loves his and takes him home, paying his debts. In many ways a picture of the cross of Christ here.

So, maybe we can call the younger Son lost, as even he did not comprehend “how long and wide, and high and deep was the love of -The Father- the transcends knowledge” (I substituted the word God for Father from Eph.3:19)…

Maybe it is the story of a son who was physically lost, and one who lost but still at home?

Maybe it was one who was lost in terms of understanding his Fathers love, and other who was a little less lost?

Maybe it is a challenge to us who think we’re home and dry, to not take God’s grace for granted, to keep our hearts from becoming dry, from allowing the cancer of smugness to strangle our acceptance of grace.

Too often we think our acceptance of grace is something we receive at conversion, but no, grace is something we need like oxygen every moment of our existence and without it we wither and die.

Let us be people who embrace grace, like drowning me, seizing this beautiful gift with both hands, something we are desperate for, but something which our Father longs to pour out onto us.

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Matthew 13.

From a Dodgy Spell Checker…

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’
 
18 ‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

Its not the first time my spelling has landed me in trouble: when I worked for St. Michael le Belfrey I was typing up an OHP and wrote the lines of the song when the music fades which include the line “I’ll bring you more than a song” yet I wrote “I’ll bring you more than a snog!” -oops.

Also at Cafe Tots our toddler group, I mistyped an email on one one occasion had the ‘o’ been accidentally replaced by and ‘i’!

Yet the worst mistake was once another mistype writing about ‘futile ground’ was meant to be ‘fertile ground’.

Yet it made me think about what all of us spend our times doing, is it fertile or futile?

Thinking about this passage, we  know there is nothing wrong with the seed, the word of God has taken root in human hearts across the world and across time and history…

So the seed is fine, the problem two fold:

Firstly do we sow generously or sparingly? For if we sow generously we will reap generously!

The second problem with the seed is where is it sown?

Throwing all your seed onto the path would be madness, chucking the lot into the bramble bushes would be bonkers, and scattering it on the rocks it a pretty pointless exercise… whilst giving the good soil a miss would be crazy!

Yet the truth is that this is exactly what too many of us, and our Churches, sometimes do with our time.

We spend years often preaching to those in the who have already heard it many times before forgetting that Jesus says “the fields are white to the harvest but the workers are few”.

Pastor Yinka from the Turning, said “The fields are white to the Harvest and the workers are you!”

The big problem is we never get out the barn and into the fields.

A great quote I read once was “The fields are white to the Harvest but we missed the opportunity arguing about what colour to paint the tractor!

White to the Harvest -What does that mean? When the crop goes white time is of the essence it needs to be harvested straight away as something has got into the plant that will destroy it, the only solution is to harvest it straight away! It is a picture of gospel urgency, or the need for immediate action, delay will mean the crop will be lost.

Sadly however, many of us have been preaching in Church to congregations stuff they already know, whilst outside the doors are those who know little but long to know about Christ. The tragedy is too often we wont move from our soil to theirs.

Recently I was in a headteachers office and she had written on the wall “Don’t water the stones” -a modern take on “don’t lay your pearls before swine” in other words, put your effort what you can change not what you can’t. Go through the doors God has opened, rather than trying to move resistive people into mission when they don’t want to go, instead knock the dust from your feet and go where the soil is fertile.

Go where God is calling, where he is already at work.

I remember speaking to someone who was talking about a situation and he made a joke of “God being at work in his world and sometimes the Church is playing catch up” -which is actually very much like to book of Acts.

Rowan Williams said “Mission, is finding out where God is working and joining in”… interestingly I believe it is often in unlikely places, or rather the places he’s at work are rarely the comfortable Churchy establishment (or the safe confines of our peer groups who look well a bit like us really!)  but rather where the hurting, broken, marginalised and disenfranchised are.

Mother Teresa laughed at people flying half way around the world to go to an area of revival for a blessing but the same people wouldn’t cross the street to be a blessing.

A challenge to us all, ask the Lord where is the good soil that you want me to sow into, where is fertile?

Ask the Lord where is the bad soil, where I am expending maximum effort for minimal impact, where is futile? And where is fertile? What and where should I invest my time energy and resources?

Jesus said “I only do what I see my Father doing”

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Salvation, sin

A “Good” Person?

The Egyptians had an idea about salvation, where you had to meet the boat keeper and if your good deeds out weighed our bad deeds you were okay and could cross into paradise.
This thinking seems prevalent today, I can call myself good if my good deeds probably, on a good day out way my bad deeds. The scales sort of balance up (ish/kinda/most of the time…)
I can call myself good if I’ve not done anything  really bad, like murder or something.
I can call myself a good person, if I compare myself with a really bad person (-look their scales are really tipping the wrong way, mine are only out by a little bit!)
I remember chatting on Street Pastors with my friend Mark Rich to a guy on a night out, this guy said  “I’m not religious but I have been a good person”.
The ‘Good person’ thing seems so prevalent, a lady I have lots of facebook discussions keeps on telling me what a good person she is and what she does for other people, which is nice, but I was thinking, being nice is nice, but Christianity isn’t just another word for being a nice bloke.
I even heard the phrase used so and so is  “a true Christian”, which was basically just meaning someone who was nicer than the average Joe in the street.
I’m sure Ghandi was a nice bloke but if you said to him (a Hindu) “you’re a Christian man”, he’d set you straight.
Even Jesus, -the only truly GOOD PERSON- said: “why do you call me good, only God alone is good” (although I think the context of this passage was to point to Jesus Christology, i.e. Jesus is God!).
I think we have got confused, we know we are saved FOR good works NOT BY them.
Christianity is actually about those of us who are aware that we’re not always nice, we do mess us, we make mistakes, we are sinful.
The Christian’s are people who know that when we stand before Jesus (not a boat keeper, but the host on  the door of the party welcoming his guests to come and dwell in his home) we know that if it worked on scales, we know they could well go the wrong way.
The Bible puts it very uncomfortably when it says “even our good works are like filthy rags” -a  verse which always challenges me when I get a bit smug and up myself
I told someone at Church I thought their behaviour was sinful (because it was) he was pretty prickly about it and I thought although he’d  say he was saved by grace, he clearly thought he was a good person and sinners were other people.
I think the ‘older brother syndrome’ creeps back into Churches sometimes.
It made me wonder isn’t there a Pharisee in all of us… we might know hypothetically that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”… but I’m pretty good really and God must be impressed with me…
Yet as a more modern hymn says : “Lord if you marked our transgressions who could stand?”
John Wells (who used to play Dennis Thatcher) said “I had low standards which I failed to meet” -I know I fail my own standards and I’m pretty good at self justifying and not listening to my conscience, so if even I know I’m not all that I want to be, if I can’t keep my own standards how can I keep God’s standards, as if he is any God at all his standards must be pretty high!
He (God) is holy, and I know I’m not.
I know I can’t reach him by my on human efforts and trying to butter him up makes God appear a bit shallow, anyway, what can I barter with before God who has everything and doesn’t need anything…
It is interesting being religious (horrible word) is  about people reaching up to God and trying to reach God and impress him… whereas Christianity is good news because it is God reaching down to us.
Undeserved.
Unearned.
Yet done out of love.
I know I’m a sinner, but I also know I am a beloved son.
I don’t have to earn my heavenly Fathers love, just as Hope my daughter doesn’t have to earn mine.
The prayer book nails it for me, when it talks about “not weighing our merits but pardoning our offences”…
God loves me, despite my sin, he knows the worst of me, and yet he still loves me.
It was whilst we were still sinners that Christ died for us.
A God who loves us, and GAVE himself for us.
A God who died for us.
When I first held Hope in my arms, I knew that I would willingly give this little bundle, any organ anything, because I loved her, would I rather die than her, of course.
If this is the reaction of a sinful human being towards a little bundle of flesh that had just come from the womb, how much greater is this from Almighty God who knows us even before we were born and knows every hair on ourr head.
Going back to the boat analogy is we can’t pay, we fail the test, and are stuck… but God in his great mercy paid the price, by dying for us on the cross, “he who had no sin  (Jesus) became sin for us so we might have the righteousness of God”.
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